Richmond and Texas, possibly the country are about to lose a treasure, The Morton Street Gallery.
For over a decade, Richmond, Texas has had a star artist, housed in a historical building just off Morton Street, and now this landmark Gallery’s days are numbered. The Gallery is on the market so it will not be long that the Gallery may be no more.
In Fort Bend County and around the country, it quickly became a status symbol to have a Fran Knueppel painting, and yet this renowned artist is considering closing the doors, creating a great loss to the community as well as leaving a void that may not be filled anytime soon.
“Since we’ve had the Gallery, we have offered painting lessons, professional picture and photo framing, exhibits of numerous different artists, we’ve held receptions and wedding parties here, and the walls have continued to be full of art works by Fran and many other local artists as well as those from around the country,” said Hall Knueppel, co-owner and Fran’s husband.
Standing in front of her and her husband’s Gallery, Fan said she cannot remember a time when she did not paint.
Knueppel’s artwork has been reviewed and written about throughout the country, and most art critics positively proclaim her style is unique and realistic.
One critic, who found her art work most interesting noted, “In Knueppel’s work you see real things in unexpected ways.”
Her watercolors are colorful and catches the eye and, and are filled with fantasy.
Knueppel’s oil paintings are also colorful, and the majority are of people, often faceless which stirs emotions, and draws people close to see the details which her work is known. She is also known for her landscapes which feature interesting trees.
Yet, whatever she is painting, her work usually is walking out the door by the time the paint dries.
Knueppel won her first art award at age 5, which was a city competition in Houston. The prize was breakfast with Gene Autry, whose career spanned some 70 years in the entertainment industry and he became famous in film, radio, television, and live theater and rodeo performances.
“I grew up in South Hampton, Houston, which is north of Rice University. Every Saturday we walked to the movie theatre to watch Gene Autry movies, he was one of my favorites,” Knueppel said.
Growing up, Knueppel studied art privately, then in 5th grade, she won a scholarship to study at the Museum of Fine Art for five years. When her youngest of four was still at home, Knueppel returned to college, and graduated from the University of Houston, with a Bachelors of Fine Arts.
“The day I graduated from college, my oldest son was also graduating from college and my daughter was graduating from law school, all on the same day,” Knueppel said.
As she talk of her art classes, memories begin to bloom, as she remembered Lynn Sakowitz was in her art class as a young girl. The classes were held in the River Oaks Center, Houston.
“There was a Sartartia Ice Cream pallor in the River Oaks Center which my family, when I was in high school, would drive to during the war for a cold scoop,” she said.
In the 1970’s one of Knueppel’s children were attending Calvary Episcopal school, and she ran the school’s thrift shop, and her husband was on the school board.
“I use to sell funny little water colors at the thrift shop. Billy Wendt, of Fort Bend County, bought one to take to his family’s farm. That painting is still there,” Knueppel said.
Throughout the years, in either her different volunteer activities or from her gallery, Knueppel has seen many of her art piece hanging in prominent homes throughout the county and country.
Knueppel has also had many art shows in numerous states and many which toured the country.
“Our Galley was built in 1870. In 1849 the land belonged to Jane Long’s daughter, before that we have not found much history. We do know this space use to be a drug store with rooms upstairs. The main entrance though was on Third Street, on the side of the building. Then in 1895 the block burned. Soon after they boarded up the windows upstairs and covered the building in stucco. In the 1940’s they removed the stucco. Photos of the building and their removing the stucco hang in the Masonic Lodge across the street. Then the space became R&B Department Store in the 1930’s and 1940s,” Knueppel said.
Visitors and patrons of the Gallery, often note how the original brick walls inside the Gallery create a warm atmosphere of tradition, culture and elegance.
According to Knueppel, downtown Richmond was quiet on Saturdays so they parked a flatbed truck on the corner, in front of where Morton Street Gallery is today, and gave out prizes and things to draw people to town.
“It was a pretty big deal for people to receive those prizes. This corner has always been where everyone stops, either to ask for directions or where everything happens. Even the national news came inside and filmed their program once,” Knueppel said.
If it happens in Richmond, it usually happens on this corner of Third and Morton, Knueppel noted.
And today, what is happening on the corner, is a Richmond resident artist, known across America, who after a life time of painting may be closing her doors. So while this quiet treasure remains open, stop by and pick-up a piece of art work, a piece of history, to hang as a symbol that Fran Knueppel helped make Richmond famous with her brushes and canvas.
Morton Street Gallery is located at 214 Morton Street, phone 281-341-8033 or visit the website, www.mortonstreetgallery.net